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Slow Cooker Pork Shoulder

Hi Everyone!
I just bought a 7.13 pork shoulder (picnic) bone in. I want to make pulled pork using my slow cooker. How long should I cook it for? I've read various times between 7-10 hours low. What is your take on timing?... Also it has a huge chunk of fat at the bottom of it. Do I keep it on? and is it placed fat side up or down? I'm using the recipe I found on here, which calls for chicken broth, onions and garlic at the bottom with meat placed on top rubbed with brown sugar, cinnamon, cumin, chili powder, salt. The recipe called for a smaller shoulder so I'm not sure what time to follow. Thanks!!

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  1. That fat I believe is commonly called the fat cap, and if you decide to leave it on, you should definitely leave it on top, so that it bastes your meat as it slowly melts during the cooking process. Whether you leave it on or take it off is up to you. Obviously, having all that fat will add flavor, but (obviously) it does add fat and calories. And it will add a lot of grease to the resultant broth, but you can always refrigerate it overnight and remove the pork fat, and use it for soup stock. The choice is up to you.

    I don't use a slow cooker, only a pressure cooker, but if you could post a link to the recipe you're talking about, maybe I could help you figure out how long to cook it. Or at least someone who made the recipe would know which specific one you were talking about and provide further guidance from their own experience.

    16 Replies
    1. re: ePressureCooker

      I found another recipe that used a 7lb in the slow cooker and cooked it for about 8 hours. I think I'm just going to cook it for 7 hours and then start checking on it. I kinda want to take the huge chunk of skin off, but if I do that the fat comes off with it too. Is there enough fat in this cut of meat to keep it flavorful/moist?

      1. re: garcherry725

        The main thing here is that the picnic needs to hit about 195 to 200 internal temp in order to pull. And a common statement is, "it's done when it's done." Having said that, I would give you an estimate if I knew what temp the slow cooker maintained. At 225, it will take about 8 to 10 hours. Slide it up or down, accordingly. I would remove the skin, but keep as much fat as possible, and place it fat cap up. It will melt off, as EPC said (Hi EPC!). Hope that helps.

        1. re: garcherry725

          I make pork shoulder and pork butt A LOT (I love pork, I love Mexican food) and I can guarantee you there is enough fat in that meat without the fat cap. You can take the skin off by itself, you can take the whole fat cap off, whatever you want to do. The meat will be fine. Pork shoulder is a whole different experience than something like pork loin, which is much leaner and drier and not nearly as tasty to eat (IMHO). In fact, next shoulder I make I'm going to take the fat cap off to make porchetta. ;D

          I would also recommend if you are willing, and have time, to shred the pork by hand, rather than using forks. That's a great opportunity to remove any remaining connective tissues that didn't melt during cooking, and any large pieces of fat that remain in the meat (if you, or your guests, want to lessen the calories). Its much easier to identify what should be removed if you handle the meat as you shred it.

          (P.S. Hi, Woodburner!)

          1. re: ePressureCooker

            +1 on everything EPC said... we have a little fan club going over here....

            1. re: woodburner

              haha, ok I will definitely take EPC's advice then! So I wound up removing the skin and was able to keep a thin layer of fat over it. I just put it in the slow cooker, fat side up, and set it for 7hrs on low. If the meat isn't pulling yet, then I'll leave it for a bit more. I'm not sure what temp the slow cooker maintains...its the Crock Pot brand if that's any help.

              1. re: garcherry725

                So what happened?

                1. re: woodburner

                  Sorry for not responding sooner! I pulled the pork out at 7 hours and it was PERFECT! Soooo yummy!! I actually had to review this post again since I am now doing another shoulder, a little bit smaller, so I will just put it on low for 6hrs. Funny thing with the timing...I put a 10lb in the crockpot a few weeks ago, set it on low for 8hrs and it turned out kinda bad. Parts of it were really tough. Not sure what happened. So hopefully this time around it's just as good as my first attempt. Thanks for the help!!

                  1. re: garcherry725

                    I do think your meat thermometer is your friend :) It's not the time but the temp. 190 is what's best in my opinion.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      But it takes time for collagen to dissolve into gelatin. Just raising a tough cut of meat (and pork shoulder is relatively tough) to 190° isn't enough. It has to stay there for a while.

                      1. re: Soul Vole

                        So I just pulled the pork out. I had it cook on low for 6 hrs and then it stayed on the warming setting for about a hour and half. Part of it is a little tough...mainly the top part which was the fat side. The bottom portion was falling off the bone with no problem. I'll try a meat thermometer next time. Should I have left it in longer? or maybe put fat side down?

                        1. re: Soul Vole

                          That's not been my experience. By the time it gets to that temp, it's coming apart in pieces and the bone, if any, lifts right out. Here's an article:

                          http://www.scienceofcooking.com/meat/...

                          1. re: c oliver

                            From the article: "Denaturation of the collagen molecule is a kinetic process, and hence a function of both temperature and duration of heating. Cooking at low temperatures require long periods of time to liquify collagen."

                            1. re: Soul Vole

                              Yep. But connective tissue/collagen starts breaking down at 160. So my experience of it being perfectly done at 190 still holds. YMMV.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Agree... hits that plateau around 165-170, and sits there for a while while the collagen breaks down, then goes back on the rise. I like to go 195-200.

                                1. re: woodburner

                                  I've been having this discussion about the plateau/stall. Was just sent this very interesting article that gives a different perspective on what causes the plateau. It points to evaporation using up the energy.

                                  http://www.amazingribs.com/tips_and_t...

                                  1. re: mashemup

                                    Fascinating. Thanks mashemup!

        2. I've cooked somewhat smaller pork shoulders in the SC for about 10 hours. I'd cut any skin off but leave the fat cap at the top. Don't overdo the liquid.

          Frankly, I don't think you have to time this to the second. When the meat is falling off the bone and shreddable, it is ready.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tcamp

            But you can overcook. I think hitting 190 is right. But I've only done that size pork shoulder in a DO in the oven. I have a big slow cooker but not THAT big.

            1. re: c oliver

              Yeah, I'm not sure what sort of SC would fit that piece o'pork. I am sure you are right about it being possible to overcook. When I'm making pulled pork, I do the SC, then shred and mix with a little bit of sauce, then bake to get some crispy edges. So maybe I'm not the best judge of overcooked.

              Using a thermapen or equivalent is a good idea.

          2. I recently attempted pulled pork via slow cooker (after scouring the site and seeing many different methods!). I did a dry rub - wrapped in saran wrap, and put it in the fridge overnight. When it came to the slow cooker, I considered adding onions to the base but opted not to. Nor did I add liquid. I put it on low for 8 hours and ended up with juices from the pork about 1/3 of the way up the shoulder. I was glad I didn't add any additional liquid! I also ended up reducing the liquid on the stove and added a touch of it back into the pulled pork.

            For any meat cut, I always put the fattiest side up (as others have mentioned, so the fat bastes the meat as it cooks.

            5 Replies
            1. re: The Oracle

              I've never understood putting much liquid into a SC with pork shoulder. Maybe a quarter cup of tequila!

              1. re: c oliver

                I don't know about a SC, but for my pressure cooker, I usually put a little bit of broth, maybe a few tablespoons of wine or other alcohol, and other seasonings in with my pork shoulder / pork butt. Not much, but a bit.

                1. re: ePressureCooker

                  I also use a little, just not a lot.

                  1. re: ePressureCooker

                    A pressure cooker has to have a certain amount of liquid to make the steam that raises the pressure, but it's not a huge amount, and the meat will release some juices as well.

                    1. re: ellabee

                      True. I like to let the meat cool down in the cooking juices so hopefully it'll reabsorb some of them and stay moist, but whatever is left over, I strain it, and use it to cook beans, make soup, whatever I feel like. Its always delicious. ;D

              2. I rub overnight and put on indirect charcoal for maybe an hour and a half and then in the LC French oven with a small amount of vinegar-based sauce

                When its cooked, I defat the sauce and mix it back into the meat.

                4 Replies
                1. re: C. Hamster

                  Are you perhaps talking about pulled pork? That doesn't seem to be OPs intent.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Pretty sure pulled pork IS OP's intent -- first sentence. :)

                    1. re: DuchessNukem

                      My apology! I missed that. I just read all the ingredients and didn't see the pulled pork reference.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        It's so easy to get caught up in drooling on the recipe that I get lost sometimes too. Is all good and tasty. :)

                2. I personally would not use a picnic for pulled pork, so ignore what I say and go with what the others say ;-) However! Picnic has skin over its fat, and skin is awesome in a pernil or carnitas - but it can't be treated like the fat cap of a pork butt (which also comes from the shoulder, yes it's true) and simply trimmed away without a good bit of effort. If you want to make some crockpot dish of pulled pork, you will want to remove most of that external fat, which means getting rid of the yummy skin...sob. Otherwise you'll have a dish that simply poaches in fat and you probably don't want that. It'll be a lot of work, too. Honestly I'd get out the dutch oven and make carnitas.

                  Boston butt/pork butt is a more, how shall we say, cubical cut. It shows a fat cap but not skin - if you see the two side by side, the difference will be obvious. You can trim that bad boy right down, and that's what you want to do - it has plenty of internal fat. Timing in a crockpot? Couldn't tell ya, I do mine in the smoker. Last batch was about 15 hours, I guess, and came out fabulous - but there were two of them.

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: LilBrownBat

                    Aren't many versions of carnitas essentially poached in fat / lard? Who wouldn't want that? ;D

                    1. re: ePressureCooker

                      I think that strictly speaking, poaching is a gentle simmer in a water-based liquid. Carnitas, to put it bluntly, fry in their own fat. It's an easy cook with awesome results.

                      1. re: LilBrownBat

                        ACtually from what I've read, carnitas are prepared by first slow cooking and then a high heat roast to get the crispies.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          It depends. A high heat roast or broil may not be necessary. Try it sometime and see.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            I think C. Oliver is right. Maybe some of the folks who post on the Mexican food threads can add their two cents about the proper carnitas cooking method, or at least whether cooking low and slow in lard or pork fat is one of them.

                            Perhaps "poaching" isn't the precise term for it, maybe its "braising" instead, but duck confit is cooked long and slow in duck fat

                            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_co...

                            Braising is listed as at least one of the methods of making carnitas, which are then quick pan or oven fried for crispiness:

                            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duck_co...

                            1. re: ePressureCooker

                              Braising, that's right.

                              BTW, I base my comments on my own experiences making carnitas (and also eating, but mostly making). IHNC really what wikipedia or cookbooks say about approved carnitas methods.

                            2. re: c oliver

                              I left Santa Barbara for the East Coast in 1970 and have been seeking the flavor and texture of the carnitas I remember from my 20s. I think I may finally have found the answer, which is a long, slow simmer in lard (seasoned with orange juice, an orange peel, toasted and ground cumin, salt and Mexican Oregano) followed by cooking in the same lard at a higher temperature just long enough to get the outside crisp.

                              I have no idea about the "authenticity" of this recipe, but I do know that it captures the flavor that I miss from the CalMex version of carnitas.

                              1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                                My father spent several years in Mexico as a teenager (his father was in the oil business at the time) and he'd probably say that the technique you described was more authentic than some of the techniques that try to avoid lard. ;D

                                1. re: PesachBenSchlomo

                                  That's just about my recipe except that I throw in juice of a lime too.

                                  I find the carnitas at Boca Grande to be decent (although not as good as what you can make at home). All the others I've had have lacked both crispiness and flavor (or have had some kind of seasoning/sauce that didn't seem right).

                                  I did try to make carnitas in a slow cooker once, lured by an earnest promise that it would work, really. It didn't. I was sad. Never again.

                                  1. re: LilBrownBat

                                    Thanks for the lime idea! I'm tring that the next time I make carnitas.

                                2. re: c oliver

                                  I agree. I recently cooked a Boston butt in the crockpot to make pulled pork sandwiches and we found the meat a bit too soft and mushy (the recipe called for too much liquid for a start). I will either do the entire thing in the oven next time or slow cook first and then finish off at high heat.

                          2. Over the years, I have cooked dozens of pork picnic shoulders in my slow cooker. Most have been 6-7.5 lbs. Here is my method, which is fairly simple. First I remove the outside skin and almost all of the outside layer of fat. Sometimes I brown the surface in a large pan on the stovetop but not usually. The slow cooker gets pre-heated. The meat gets generously salted before going into the slow cooker with the temp set at low. No liquid or anything else is added. It will produce plenty of liquid on its own. And that liquid should never even get close to boiling while the meat cooks. After 4-5 hours I turn the shoulder over. Then I start checking it for doneness after about 7 hours. I have had some that were done in 7-8 hours and others that took 10-11 hours. There is no way I know of to pre-determine the length of cooking time.

                            1. Personally, I wouldn't recommend putting all those seasonings and extra ingredients on it. Keep it simple with just some sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and stud it with some garlic cloves. You could always serve a homemade BBQ sauce on the side to go with it.

                              That way you can do more with the extra's and leftovers - it's more versatile.

                              Also, if it still has the skin on it, that probably won't come out too well in a slow cooker.

                              I generally make mine in the oven, in a glass baking dish with a tight fitting lid. I cook it at 250 degrees for several hours. You get a little more variety in texture, the outer parts of the meat get a bit crusty and chewy, while the inner parts melt in your mouth. I also cut it in half if it's particularly large, so it cooks more evenly.

                              Pork shoulder is pretty forgiving as far as overcooking it. I would be more concerned with undercooking it. If you get impatient and don't give it enough time, the meat will be tough and the fat and connective tissue won't be completely melted yet. When it's done, you should be able to pull the bone right out of it without any force.

                              1. You can't do pulled pork in a slow cooker, except....

                                True pulled pork has a crisp outer layer, tender inner, and smoked. The magic of real pulled pork is the combination of the crunchy outer, the tender inner, and the smoke.

                                Calling a pork shoulder in a slow cooker pulled pork is the same as calling a duck in a slow cooker Peking Duck.

                                That said, you can take steps to get there - rub it (maybe with liquid smoke), brown it hard, slow cook it, then broil it.

                                Anthing else is just slow cooked pork. Not Pulled Pork.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                  While it's true that anything calling itself "pulled pork" in my house came out of the smoker, I don't know that barbecuing owns the term - seems like, strictly speaking, it just describes how you take apart a piece of pork that's been cooked by some method until tender. In any case, slow-cooker and oven "pulled pork" recipes are ubiquitous at this point - google "pulled pork recipe" and that's far and away most of what you find. It's a bit like the argument over what "pizza" is. I definitely have my preferences and I use the terms to mean something fairly specific, not "any old shreddy type of meat with 'barbecue sauce' dumped on top of it" or "some kind of flat bread with stuff on it", but it would be disingenuous to pretend that most of the world doesn't mean something different by it.

                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                    Sorry foreverhungry. That's a made-up definition by YOU.

                                    Pulled pork in its essence is merely just pork so tender that it's easily pulled apart into shreds. Everything else that you mentioned is just romanticized.

                                    I generally smoke my shoulders from start to finish and set it in a cooler. I hear ya about how I like it pulled pork, and how you like it, but you can make pretty good pulled pork in an oven or slow cooker. Because it's soaking in it's on juice, it's hard for a smoked shoulder to be as juicy as one from a slow cooker without making a good finishing sauce or being very vigilant with your water tray and drippings. The only thing that a slow cooker can't replicate is the smoked flavor. You can even achieve a bark by draining the slow cooker after the meat is done and then turning it up to High and browning the exterior.

                                    It's all about how satisfied the end-users are with the finished product, but slow cooker pulled pork is not inferior in and of itself.

                                    1. re: GutGrease

                                      We can agree to disagree. And for what it's worth, wikipedia defines pulled pork in terms of barbeque.

                                      If pulled pork is nothing more than slow cooked pork, then what's the difference between braised pork and pulled pork? Why not just call it slow cooked pork?

                                      This is like taking a piece of Wonder bread, spreading tomato sauce on it, sprinking cheese on top, toasting it, and calling it a pizza. While it has all the essential ingredients that a pizza has, it's not really a pizza, any more than a simple roasted duck is Peking Duck, or spreading orange marmalade on a duck is duck a l'orange. There's more to it than just ingredients, there's a method.

                                      I never said there's anything inferior about slow roasted pork. To me, and to many others, it's different than pulled pork. I braise pork shoulders in slow cookers often, because I don't often have the time it takes to smoke them. But I don't call it pulled pork.

                                      1. re: foreverhungry

                                        "In the United States, pulled pork is commonly slow-cooked by a smoking method, though a non-barbecue method might also be employed using a slow cooker or a domestic oven." - Wikipedia

                                        foreverhungry, I don't think anyone disagrees with you that slow-smoked pork is different from anything you'll get out of a slow cooker, that there are dishes with a narrowly-defined method or set of ingredients, or that a term becomes meaningless when you apply it to anything at all. However - and speaking here as a serious fan of the q -- I'm not as rigidly certain as you are that "pulled pork" is one of these canonical dishes. If you can point to the origin and ownership of the term, I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I don't see the point. No matter how vehemently you feel about the matter, you don't control how people will use the term - all you can do, really, is ratchet up your blood pressure and shorten your life span. While, again, I mean exactly one thing when I say I'm going to make pulled pork (and that's butt not shoulder), for the purposes of communication, the sane thing seems to be to understand that other people mean different things by it, rather than insist (to no good effect) that they use my meaning.

                                        1. re: LilBrownBat

                                          Point well taken, LLB.

                                  2. I just made a slow cooker pulled pork. The night before, I put DH's spice rub on it and placed in the fridge. The next day, I sliced 1 onion and put it in the bottom of the pot. Added the pork, fat side up then added 1 cup of root beer. Let it go on low for 6 hours. It was so tender. Added some BBQ sauce and devoured it on some buns with cole slaw on top. Seriously good. Pork was a 5 lb. shoulder with bone in.

                                    1. I am doing this recipe tomorrow for the second time. Its a great recipe. Just follow it. I put the fat side up so that any rendered fat went through the meat. When I got home from work, amazing aromas were in my kitchen. I pulled out the meat, took off the biggest pieces of fat (the fat cap) and went through and shredded it. Again, discarding any significant clumps of fat. I suggest using the LOW setting, since modern day crock pots heat higher then the older ones. Don't worry it'll be done.

                                      1. which pulled pork recipe is this on here (or is there only one)? sorry, I am new more or less. I've taken a more recent fancy to pulled pork from Safeway, lol. it would be good to know how to prepare this on my own though.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: brokedownsystem

                                          Try coconut cream, almond milk,parsley,sweet paprika,ginger,garlic,black pepper,stevia plant sweetner instead of sugger, very small touch of cinamon and coriander

                                          soak pork in the mixture for around 30 minutes then throw in slow cooker and set on high for 4hrs while turning every 1hr

                                          I tried this just today and its awesome

                                        2. The rub is all down to you really n what you want in with the pulled pork, theres nothing wrong with experimenting. That rub mix though i tried and didnt like as i found that on the net, im now trying a jerk seasoning along with onions, peppers garlic and tomatoes (plum) on the bottom. As for the meat if youve got a big chunk over 7lbs of it i recommend cokking for about 11-12 as i used a big piece myself and although it pulled could tell it needed more than its 10 hours. The fat sit on the bottom, so fat side (down). When done n pulled juices are sposed to be seperated then bit by bit add it back to satisfy the meat then left over night. Nextday when you want to eat it sposed to cook it on a flat top but we dont got them in our homes so should be good on a fryin pan like bacon itself is cooked. Hope this helps, there are many rubs, methods but i guess its down to alot of experimenting as ive found..